Jan 24, 2014

Motorcycle Review: 2012 BMW R1200GS

Adventure Touring's Founding Father

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

I have no idea where this building was. I stumbled on it while wandering around the Minnesota River Valley.

BMW was the first manufacturer to take the whole "adventure touring" genre seriously, in 1980 with the R80G/S model. Since then, BMW has been hammering this market with a collection of excellent on/off-road motorcycles ready for an adventure when the right owner comes along. In its odd way, the BMW GS bikes carry a special kind of prestige among motorcyclists and the bike-curious. Famous people like Neal Pert, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, and Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman have put the R1200GS in front of millions of television viewers and readers. The rest of us dream about hitting the right lottery numbers so we can be like Ewan and Charley. Two-and-a-half days on an R1200GS and I was almost ready to blow a couple of bucks on my own Power Ball delusion.

After being pleasantly surprised that I could swing a leg over our test bike, my next surprise was discovering that the boxer doesn't kick off instantly. You have to stick with the starter button long enough for all that mass to get swinging. When it first fires up, the motor tosses off an odd vibration and takes a few moments to settle into a comfortable low engine speed rumble. At low engine RPM's, the motor shakes the whole chassis in old fashioned twin style. The exhaust isn't loud, but it's not 2012 politically correct. It's noisy enough that you can blip the throttle to wake up a dozing cager at a stop light. Honestly, I liked the sound enough that popping the motor slightly just off-idle while I'm wasting time at a light was mildly entertaining. Cruising down the super-slab puts the motor at about 4krpm at 70mph. There is a lot of horsepower and torque left from that point to the bike's 8.5k redline. The EFI throttle mapping is aggressive and when you whack the throttle in gears 1-4, be ready to loft the front wheel. At BMW's estimated 42mpg, the 5-gallon tank could deliver a 200-mile range and while the EFI calculator claimed that I'd been getting 42-48mpg, my fuel receipts indicated that I got 32, 34, and 38mpg over almost 400 miles. Shifting is predictable, precise, and no unusual movement is required. Maybe to make the faithful feel comfortable with this radical modern concept, all of that great feel is accompanied with the historical Euro-primitive "clunk" sound on each shift, up or down. The rest of the power transmission is typically BMW.

The R1200GS handling is legendary for a reason. The bike instills confidence, on and off-pavement. The universal design of the GS is slightly slanted toward all sorts of civilized riding situations, the twistier the better. Still, the bike works better than 516 pounds should be expected to work off-road. The weight feels low and in most situations I barely noticed that it is a big bike. The BMW is a little scary in deep sand, but that's probably more me and $18k motorcycles than an actual deficiency. On the MSF course, the GS was maneuverable enough to handle all of the tight cornering exercises inside of the lines designed for our 250cc trainers.

The riding position with the low seat might be too constricted for taller riders, but BMW has several options with the stock seat that can lift the seated position another two inches. I was on the bike, almost non-stop for 200 miles, twice, and comfort was never an issue. In rough riding situations, standing on the pegs requires a little more rearward stance than I consider ideal, because of the big engine cases. It's not uncomfortable and it works, but it's a little restrictive. The skinny footpegs do not work for me. The little rubber insert is easily removed and should be tossed as far from the bike as possible at earliest convenience. Wider serrated pegs would be the first aftermarket piece I'd put on the GS. The bike's handling is predictable and only seems out of its element when you're not pushing it hard enough. Big semi divots in a dirt road are best taken hard and fast, while the usual Minnesota freeway engineering flaws are rougher than expected. The single-sided swingarm is, as always, maintenance-friendly, beautifully executed, and downright cool. The tubeless wheels and wire hubs are solidly trick.

With or without ABS, the GS has an integrated braking system that applies both brakes with front brake application. The rear brake is plenty powerful on its own. The BMW's ABS system is more aimed at on-road conditions. In loose gravel or sand, the rear brake pulsates and the front is too grabby for a balls-to-the-wall panic stop that relies on ABS for control. In fact, I'd be inclined to turn off ABS on a long off-road trip. On pavement, the BMW's brakes are firm, powerful, and predictable.

What's under the BMW's seat.

Turn the seat lock toward the back of the bike and the passenger seat comes off, revealing extra storage rack space. Turn the key toward the front and the rider's seat can be removed without messing with the passenger seat and you can get at the battery, the "rider's manual" storage, the tool kit, and a helmet security loop. All of the electrical systems, except the auxiliary LED headlight circuit, are electronically fused, so resetting one of those systems after a fault only requires switching the ignition off and on. The rest of basic maintenance is pretty well considered, too. Removing the right side cover exposes the air filter and servicing that unit is as simple as it should be. Servicing the brakes, wheels and tires, suspension, and the usual electrical culprits (lights) has been designed to be simple and fairly tool-free. Early in the test, I discovered the oil level was a little low. Topping off the oil pointed out a little gripe I have with BMW's maintenance procedure. The oil fill is on the top of the right side cylinder and the inspection window is under the left size cylinder. 

All the available information from the "multifunction display; from the BMW rider's manual.

The "multifunction display" looks pretty unused, in its normal state. Typically, fuel status, water temperature, the gear indicator, turn signals, an ABS status light, the odometer or one of the two tripmeter options, and one of the on-board computer functions are all that is displayed. However, if all hell breaks loose on the bike, the data display could be pretty well jammed with fault information. The fault displays include warnings for tire pressure faults, a "needs service" indicator, battery charge fault, emergency engine operation mode, low oil pressure, low oil level, headlight failure, and a collection of alpha/numeric codes for troubleshooting purposes. The display is, in fact, a full-service troubleshooting tool with a collection of really cool hidden capabilities that service techs rely on in repairing electronics-heavy modern motorcycles.


The whole rider's information package.

From a rider's perspective, the whole console is functional and user-friendly. The analog tach and speedometer are easily interpreted, especially in the dark, and where you'd expect them to be. The speedo is large and the main item in the instrument cluster, just like it should be (140mph/230kph max). The tach is at the top with an 8.5krpm redline. Just below the tach is the very bright LED display and below that is the previously-discussed multifunction display. The instrument cluster is fortified by a serious looking crash bar and completely shielded by the windscreen.

Just a little of the stuff you can do with your left thumb.

The bike has a collection of switches near the left grip for the usual turn-signal, horn, and lights operation, plus switches to cycle the computer display function (INFO), a switch for disabling ABS and the Automatic Stability Control (ASC) functions, and a switch for controlling the Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) options. The INFO switch cycles the computer functions through a clock, two trip odometers, ambient temperature, average speed, fuel consumption, estimated remaining range, and oil level. Our bike did not have either of the ASC or ESA options.

Our test bike did come with about $1,600 of optional features, including a lowering setup, heated grips, hand guards, an on-board computer, and the super-sexy cross-spoke wheel package. Other options include electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), automatic stability (traction) control (ASC), and an anti-theft system. Going for every BMW GS option adds about $3,600 to the $16,150 base price.


A look at the ZTechnik accessories.

Because the R1200GS has been around for a while, Touratech, ADVDesigns, and lots of aftermarket suppliers have dozens of farkles and useful accessories for the R1200GS. You could almost double-down on your $16,500 base model investment from their catalogs. Our test bike came with a tall ZTechnik windscreen and that company's mirror extenders and an accessory shelf for power connectors and your GPS or radar detector. With the mirrors extended an extra 3", they provide a completely unobstructed view of where you have been. The very-adjustable windshield mount allows for considerable alteration of the shield's angle and height. I'm not usually convinced that I like tall shields and the ZTechnik was no exception. I suspect I'd like the stock shield and mirror positions better than that rig.

I'm not a fan of motorcycles with character, but the BMW's character is "competence." Lots of little things are done well. From a kickstand that never offers a moment of insecurity, even when you're putting it down in soft dirt, off-camber, when you're tired and distracted to a motor that just does what it's supposed to do. It's a stupid little thing, but one I appreciated every time I parked the bike. Even the BMW's key is beefed-up. Instead of having the key notches on the outside of the key, BMW has put the notches on the inside of the key slot, making the key stronger and the lock a lot harder to pick. If you add the anti-theft option to the bike, picking the lock won't help a thief ride away on your bike. The Electronic Immobilizer System (EWS) handshakes with your smart key to determine if you're using an authorized key. If you aren't, the bike stays immobilized. The ignition is disabled until it is deactivated by a remote control if or a special code is entered by way of switching the key off and on. Damn, that's tricky!  The auto-cancelling turn signals were a nice surprise. I haven't had that convenient feature since my '83 Yamaha Vision and I've missed it. The heated grips were completely new experience. Sev turned them on just before I rode away from his house and by the time I made it home, I was plotting heated grip installation on my V-Strom.

BMW1200GS17Monday night, I put the big BMW back on the freeway for the last time. Traffic was heavy and a little competitive. The big bike effortlessly puts me where I want to be, when I want to be there. In that environment, a gear indicator is useful. The GS pulls hard at any RPM above 1,000, so it's hard to feel the shift points surrounded by noisier vehicles. From my home to Leo's South, I have 27 miles of urban traffic to collect my last thoughts about this motorcycle. Owning a R1200GS is out of my socio-economic class, but I can almost imagine putting in a couple of evil years to change sides in the Class Wars, just to own a big GS. I am going to miss this motorcycle. It looks so good sitting next to my WR250X in the garage.

Thanks to the folks at Leo's South, Wayne and Randy Bedeaux, for making this terrific motorcycle available for review. This was an especially generous loan, since it was one of their personal bikes. If it were mine, I wouldn't let this babe out of my sight.

Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, March 2013.


R 1200 GS $16,150 MSRP

  • Engine
  • Type
  • Air/oil-cooled flat twin ('Boxer') 4-stroke engine, two camshafts and four radially aligned valves per cylinder, central balancer shaft
  • Bore x stroke
  • 101 mm x 73 mm
  • Capacity
  • 1,170 cc
  • Rated output
  • 110 hp (81 kW) at 7,750 rpm
  • Max. torque
  • 89 ft-lb (120 Nm) at 6,000 rpm
  • Compression ratio
  • 12.0 : 1
  • Mixture control / engine management
  • Electronic intake pipe injection / BMS-K+ digital engine management with overrun fuel cut-off, twin spark ignition
  • Emission control
  • Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-3
  • Performance / fuel consumption
  • Maximum speed
  • Over 125 mph (200 km/h)
  • Fuel consumption per 100 km at constant 90 km/h
  • 55 mpg, at a constant 55 mph
  • Fuel consumption per 100 km at constant 120 km/h
  • Fuel type
  • Unleaded super and premium.
  • Electrical system
  • Alternator
  • three-phase alternator 720 W
  • Battery
  • 12 V / 14 Ah, maintenance-free
  • Power transmission
  • Clutch
  • Single dry plate clutch, hydraulically operated
  • Gearbox
  • Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
  • Drive
  • Shaft drive
  • Chassis / brakes
  • Frame
  • Two-section frame consisting of front and rear sections, load- bearing engine-gearbox unit
  • Front wheel location / suspension
  • BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 41 mm, central spring strut, spring preload with 5-position mechanical adjustment
  • Rear wheel location / suspension
  • Cast aluminum single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable
  • Suspension travel front / rear
  • 7.5/7.9 inches (190 mm/200 mm)
  • Wheelbase
  • 59.3 inches (1,507 mm)
  • Castor
  • 4 inches (101 mm)
  • Steering head angle
  • 64.3°
  • Wheels
  • Cast aluminum wheels
  • Rim, front
  • 2.50 x 19"
  • Rim, rear
  • 4.00 x 17"
  • Tyres, front
  • 110/80 R 19
  • Tyres, rear
  • 150/70 R 17
  • Brake, front
  • Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, 4-piston fixed calipers
  • Brake, rear
  • Single disc brake, diameter 265 mm, double-piston floating caliper
  • ABS
  • BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral), can be switched off
  • Dimensions / weights
  • Length
  • 87 inches (2,210 mm)
  • Width (incl. mirrors)
  • 36 inches (915 mm)
  • Height (excl. mirrors)
  • 57 inches (1,450 mm)
  • Seat height, unladen weight
  • 33.5/34.3 inches (850/870 mm) low seat: 32.3 inches
    (820 mm), lowered suspension: 31.1 inches (790 mm)
  • Inner leg curve, unladen weight
  • Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled 1)
  • 516 lbs (229 kg)
  • Dry weight 2)
  • 461 lbs (209 kg)
  • Permitted total weight
  • 970 lbs (440 kg)

BMW's R1200GS Website





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